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Should it have been a penalty?

Over the years I have read on many occasions South African rugby fans venting their anger at the refereeing of Stuart Dickinson.

He is a man who can’t seem to stay away from controversy, and even if he has been doing a good job this season there has always been room for debate, frustration and in some cases fury.

It was Dickinson who failed to detect a sly hand from Jamie Mackintosh dislodging the ball from the Bulls' halfback during the frantic final stages of the Highlanders' upset win in Pretoria.

It was Dickinson who provoked debate when he awarded a penalty try against the Stormers in Hamilton, and now he is public enemy number one with Crusaders fans after his role in the top of the table clash in Brisbane on Sunday.

I’m sure many of you will be having a chuckle over this. You know how we feel.

It was a tight match, with both sides defending well, so opportunities were going to be few and far between, and inevitably it came down to mistakes.

Dickinson had had a running battle with Richie McCaw all game and had the final say when he penalised the Crusaders skipper for taking the ball out of a ruck with his hands, allowing Quade Cooper to kick the winning goal.

Should it have been a penalty?

Certainly McCaw was taking a risk in putting himself at the mercy of a bloke who’s never shy to blow his whistle, and Dickinson was calling him to stay out at precisely the moment he got his hands on the ball, but that doesn’t mean it was a correct call..

Ben Franks had counter-rucked so well, that he had moved the two Reds players standing over the ball, and there it was on the Crusaders side, and McCaw picked it up.

In my view, one supported by one of New Zealand's most experienced referees with whom I discussed it, was that the ruck had moved and the ball was there on the Crusaders side, so McCaw should have been allowed to play it.

Certainly you see halfbacks digging the ball out in situations like this all the time and they never get penalised, so why should a forward get pinged?

You can debate that one endlessly, but it has to be said that there were more mistakes in this game than should be acceptable at this level. There were at least six obvious knock-ons and forward passes that went undetected, and they went both ways.

If Dickinson didn’t spot them – and a ref can’t be expected to see everything – then his assistants should have. If anyone was guilty of turning a blind eye it was the guys with the flags.

It’s a shame that the match ended in such controversy because it had been an epic, played out in front of a massive crowd, between two very good sides.

It leaves the Crusaders with work to do to make the playoffs, but they are an excellent team and they should be there come the business end. In Australia they’re talking a possible rematch down the line, which would be very interesting.

It was a great weekend again for South Africa’s cause.

I was at Carisbrook where the Lions showed a lot of spirit to down a surprisingly flat Highlanders outfit, a result that will probably cost the ‘Landers a playoff spot.

We had a good look at the burgeoning talent of Elton Jantjies – and what a good player he is – but to me the win came down to a couple of old stagers.

Wikus van Heerden isn’t really built to be a lock – not in the way his father was – but he was the inspiration behind this win, with his relentless determination to carry the ball up into the heart of the Highlanders defence.

And in the backline, Butch James played with complete authority. He might not have stood out, but you could sense he was calling the shots, playing what was in front of them, taking the pressure off his young teammate.

It’s a shame that citings and a suspension followed this match, but even if his intentions were simply to move a player, the manner in which Michel Rhodes threw Siale Piatau whilst holding him round the neck could have had catastrophic consequences.

I was surprised that Piatau was not also banned for his retaliation, although I imagine not many players would have been able to resist lashing out in such circumstances.

I also think Jarrad Hoeata was lucky not to be cited for a high hit on Jantjies, so once again the whole process has left itself open to claims of inconsistency.

With the Stormers, Bulls and Sharks winning, it has opened the door up on three South African teams in the playoffs, and if results go their way, maybe it may not just be the Stormers who have home advantage come playoffs time.

I caught part of the Canberra game, which is a tricky one out of the way for the Stormers.

They achieved the win despite being denied a try when Marius Jonker penalised Jaque Fourie for a rather innocuous push on a Brumbies player, which ironically, would qualify as the second-biggest home-town call of the weekend!

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